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What Kind of Addiction Treatments Are Actually Proven to Work?

What Kind of Addiction Treatments Are Actually Proven to Work?

“Recovery is, in many ways, an inner journey, and people with addictions often feel alone. In their aloneness, they ache and yearn for another state of mind and body. People with addiction must find inner strength again, and they need help in doing so.” ~Drs. Brian F. Shaw, Ph.D., Paul Ritvo, Ph.D., and Jane Irvine, DPhil, Addiction and Recovery for Dummies The good news is that a person wanting to recover from a substance abuse order such as alcoholism or drug addiction has more choices today than ever before. No matter where they live and no matter what their personal situation is, there is a recovery option available to them. The bad news is that with so many choices before them, a person wanting to recover from a substance abuse order is more confused than ever before. It isn’t enough to have a plethora of choices – it has to be the RIGHT choice for the individual.

Effective Addiction Treatment – What You Need to Know

The most important thing. But a person needs to understand about recovery from addiction is this – no single treatment is right for everyone. The best treatment is the one that works for YOU and addresses all of your wellness needs, not just your drug use. Although some programs only focus on helping the person stop using drugs and remain drug-free, a more comprehensive approach would be to also assist the individual in learning how to be a productive member of society. This means offering a wider variety of services and referrals relating to the specific problems that a person in recovery from substance use might face:

  • Evaluation for co-occurring mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD
  • Vocational/Job readiness
  • Educational needs
  • Medical problems
  • Legal complications
  • HIV/AIDS screening
  • Family issues

The quality of treatment and the availability of continuing care should be the benchmarks by which different treatment strategies are measured. This could mean:

  • Motivating people in recovery to participate in a treatment program for longer periods of time. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time” is a core principle of effective treatment.
  • Encouraging clients to join a long-term support community. Typically, this would mean going to a 12-Step fellowship group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery.
  • Increasing the availability of long-term aftercare, perhaps on an outpatient basis after a stint in a residential facility.
  • Offering educational programs and resources to the family members of clients in recovery.
  • Providing a wide range of treatment dynamics – not just individual counseling, but also peer group counseling and family sessions, as well.
  • Most importantly, this would mean incorporating more evidence-based treatment protocols, as opposed to the traditional “practice-based” approaches used by many veteran counselors.

A 2012 report published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University discovered that “Only a small fraction of individuals receive interventions or treatment consistent with scientific knowledge about what works.”

What Are the Most Frequently-Used Types of Effective Addiction Treatment?

When considering what might comprise effective addiction treatment, it’s best to think of the entire process:

  • Drug/Alcohol Detoxification–This is not “drug treatment”, per se, but rather the first step that readies a person for drug rehab. The individual is typically medically-monitored while their body rids itself of the addictive substance. Because of the possible severity of withdrawal symptoms, 80% of all detoxifications are done with the assistance of medications.
  • Behavioral Counseling –These are therapies that help patients change their mindsets and behaviors relating to alcohol or drug use by substituting healthy life skills. Behavioral counseling can take several forms, such as:
    • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which educates clients about how to identify and avoid situations that may trigger cravings or drug use.
    • Multidimensional family therapy, which improves family dynamics by identifying patterns that influence drug abuse and the effect it has on the entire family.
    • Motivational interviewing, which emphasizes the positives of recovery in order to motivate the individual to seek treatment and make positive lifestyle changes.
    • Contingency management, which uses positive reinforcement and motivational incentives to promote continued abstinence.
  • Behavioral counseling can take place in two settings:
    • Outpatient drug or alcohol rehab, where the individual lives at home and receives counseling services on a regular basis. The most effective type of service is an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), where the person may receive as much as 15 hours of individual or group counseling per week.
    • Inpatient/residential treatment, which is typically used for individuals with severe problems, such as co-occurring mental disorders or multiple failed attempts at less-intensive rehab.

Residential facilities typically offer 24-hour monitoring by licensed medical staff in a safe and therapeutic environment. The average short-term residential stay is 26 days, while the average long-term state is 70 days.

Numerous studies have shown that the longer a person stays in rehab, the better their chances of success. The best results seem to come after a person has been in some combination of inpatient/outpatient rehab for at least 90 days.

  • Long-Term Follow-Up/Relapse Prevention–This support service offered to clients in recovery would have achieved a period of successful sobriety. This can be done via regular, less-intensive outpatient sessions or on an individual “as-needed” basis.

A Few Words about Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

The judicious use of certain medications can help decrease drug cravings and restore balance and normal brain function. Currently, there are existing medications opioid and alcohol addictions, while research is underway for other substances such as stimulants and cannabis. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a combination of counseling/behavioral therapy and medication is effective in treating opioid or alcohol dependency and provides a “whole patient” treatment approach. MAT has been proven to reduce drug-seeking behavior and criminal activity, while at the same time making patients more receptive of behavioral treatment. Typical medications include:

  • For opioids –
    • Methadone and buprenorphine, both of which ease withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings by targeting the same areas of the brain as morphine, heroin, and prescription opioids such as oxycodone hydrocodone, and fentanyl.
    • Naltrexone blocks the euphoric effects of opioids, making it impossible for a person to get high by misuse.
  • For alcohol –
    • As it does for opioids, naltrexone blocks the rewarding effects of alcohol consumption.
    • Acamprosate reduces symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, such as restlessness, anxiety, insomnia, and dysphoria.
    • Disulfiram is a medication that aids in alcohol-aversion therapy. It interferes with the body’s absorption of alcohol, leading to severely unpleasant reactions such as nausea and vomiting when alcohol is consumed.

Because addiction has so many causal and influential factors – genetics, environment, personal habits, etc. – there may never be one single treatment regimen that is completely effective for 100% of patients. The best approaches are those that can be tailored to the individual to combat the disease of addiction on multiple levels. Northpoint Recovery, in Boise, Idaho, offers comprehensive inpatient recovery services that combine the best evidence-based treatment protocols, traditional 12-Step support philosophies, and the most trusted holistic practices. When used together, these strategies maximize patients’ opportunities for successful, long-lasting return to sobriety.